Uganda's Museveni celebrates poll win amid tension

KAMPALA Sat Feb 26, 2011 3:47am IST

Supporters of Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni celebrate his victory in the Presidential elections along the streets of the capital Kampala, February 20, 2011. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Supporters of Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni celebrate his victory in the Presidential elections along the streets of the capital Kampala, February 20, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Thomas Mukoya

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KAMPALA (Reuters) - Ugandans cheering skywards as a yellow plane circles and blares out President Yoweri Museveni's popular rap single are sure an opposition call to protest against his election win is ridiculous.

Tens of thousands of supporters of one of Africa's longest-serving leaders streamed into an airstrip in the capital Kampala on Friday to celebrate his disputed poll victory.

Uganda, and especially Kampala, has been flung into uncertainty by a call for peaceful protests from Museveni's main rival Kizza Besigye, who polled just 26 percent of the vote against the 25-year veteran leader's 68 percent.

The victory rally took place amid heavy security a day after Besigye made the call, flanked by two other opposition leaders.

But protests have yet to erupt and some analysts think Besigye is losing momentum. Others say protests, unlikely to remain peaceful, may break out.

"Protests are a stupid idea. Museveni won the election and now Besigye wants what? War?" Joshua Mugarura, 27, said, wearing a T-shirt depicting Museveni, 67, as U.S. action hero Rambo.

Besigye, who has repeatedly said Uganda is ripe for a North African-style uprising, says last week's presidential and parliamentary polls should be rerun because of widespread bribery, ballot stuffing and intimidation.

The plane flying around Kampala, playing the rap single Museveni released to appeal to the young electorate, is indicative, critics say, of the biggest election campaign spend in Ugandan history.

Although European Union observers, the United States and Britain have pointed out flaws, they have not cast doubt on Museveni's win.

Still, Museveni's ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) was taking no chances and heavily-armed solders, riot police and the much-feared "red beret" military police patrolled in huge numbers on foot and in trucks around the capital.

"NEVER RISE AGAIN"

Museveni used the rally on Friday to warn against what would be sub-Saharan Africa's first anti-government protests since the uprisings that have spread through the north of the continent.

"They talk rubbish about Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, but none of those leaders spent 13 years fighting," he told the cheering crowd. "How can I fail to defend the unity of the people of Uganda? If you come threatening, I will deal with you decisively and you will never rise again.

"We will catch him and eat him like a cake," he added, referring to Besigye.

Several motorbike taxi drivers, notorious for past involvement in political riots, said they would join protests if they started. Many promised they would stay peaceful this time.

"Why can't we peacefully protest?" Besigye supporter Justice Opio, 34, asked as he hurried past the Museveni victory party.

"Why are the police saying they will stop it? The right to peacefully protest is protected."

Fear of violence was mentioned all over Kampala by supporters of both men as reason enough for hoping the protests would not happen.

Museveni is still popular in the countryside for stabilising a country once plagued by civil wars and dictators like Idi Amin. Many Ugandans fear a return of those days.

As the plane, painted yellow for the NRM, wheeled back into view, Museveni shouted: "Do you want another rap?", the title of his headline-grabbing venture into music, and launched into yet another rendition of what has become a nightclub staple.

One man at the rally turned to another and asked: "Do you think Besigye can match this?"

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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